Being a birth parent in an open adoption can be both a blessing and a challenge. As your child grows up, you’ll celebrate their accomplishments and grieve their losses with them.
But your unique role can also make it difficult to know how to react, especially when major life changes come along for the adoptive family. What is and isn’t your place to say? How do you maintain a relationship with the adoptive family and your child, despite these obstacles?
When major life changes happen to either party in an open adoption, it’s tempting to want to move forward with the same rules as before. Most of the time, that’s not possible. But, with a little bit of work, you can adjust your relationship with the adoptive family and your child to meet both of your preferences.
Remember: If a change in the adoptive family’s life has you freaking out, you can always contact your adoption specialist at 1-800-ADOPTION. They can give you personal suggestions and tips on moving forward in a productive way.
In the meantime, here are seven common circumstances that can impact your relationship with the adoptive family.
1. They Move Farther Away.
There were many reasons you chose the adoptive parents you did, but one of them may have been close proximity. You may have lived only a few hours away from each other, making future open adoption visits easy and convenient for all involved.
So, when the adoptive parents move across the country (or even to a different country altogether), you may be panicking. You may be angry — How dare they move my child so far away! — and scared — Will I ever get to see my child again?
These are both valid emotions. However, remember that open adoption contact naturally ebbs and flows. Even without a major relocation, birth parents and adoptive parents can have more or less frequent contact at any given time. What’s important is working on this communication together.
Most adoptive parents are just as committed to open adoption as birth parents. Once the move is complete, your child’s parents should reach out and set new expectations for future contact. Don’t be afraid to initiate this conversation on your own, either. Make your preferences known and express the importance of continued contact moving forward.
2. The Parents Get Divorced.
No one wants to imagine this situation. But, the reality is that 39% of married couples in the United States will get divorced.
If it happens to your birth child’s parents, it may come as a shock. Perhaps you chose them because you wanted a two-parent home, and now you feel like your wishes are for nothing.
Remember, whatever you may be feeling, your child is feeling much more intensely. Divorce is hard on all children, and it may affect your birth child in unexpected ways. They may reduce contact with you out of displaced anger, or they may drastically increase contact as a way to compensate. Try to be there for them as much as you comfortably can. If you aren’t ready to provide any support, make sure to say so. Don’t feel guilty — you have to do what is right for your mental health.
While adoptive parents divorcing is never ideal, it doesn’t mean that the non-custodial parent is out of your child’s life forever. They will likely be just as attentive a parent as before the divorce, just in a different way.
When you feel comfortable doing so, talk with the adoptive parents about your new open adoption relationship. Who should be the point of contact for visits with your child? Who should you expect to get updates and photos from? Offer your support to them and your child however you are comfortable doing so and remember that while divorce proceedings are temporary, family connections are not.
3. They Have Another Child.
If you were thrilled at the idea of your birth child being an only child, you may be angry when you find out the adoptive parents have had another child — biologically or through adoption.
People change over time. While your child’s parents may have wanted only one child during your adoption, their new experience as parents might have inspired them to give your child a sibling. Sometimes, this new child is just as much a surprise to them as to you.
It’s normal to feel conflicting feelings, like excitement and betrayal. You may worry that the adoptive parents will love a biological child more than yours. But, that’s simply not true — your birth child is just as much a loved and special part of their family. A new child won’t change that.
Ultimately you should remember that your child’s happiness is what’s important. Now, they’ll have a sibling to grow up with and lean on in times of need. At the end of the day, your child’s new sibling is just another person to love on in your open adoption relationship.
A new sibling isn’t something that can be taken back. So, why not take all those negative thoughts and channel it into positive energy for your future calls and visits?
4. An Extended Family Member Moves In.
When an extended family member of your child joins their household, it can throw a wrench in your open adoption dynamics. Maybe this person isn’t aware of how your open adoption works, or you are uncomfortable sharing the same relationship with them that you do with your child and their parents.
You always have the right to choose the open adoption that works for you. But, if we can make a suggestion, it might be in everyone’s best interest to approach this new family member with the same love and respect you offer the rest of the family. This can be much easier, especially if this new relative is a part of the household for the long-haul.
Never force yourself into a relationship you’re not ready for, but try to approach this situation with open eyes and few expectations.
5. A Parent Loses Their Job.
Whether you’ve heard it through the grapevine or from the adoptive parent, a job loss can be a shock. It’s normal to worry about your child’s well-being but, unfortunately, this is one of those situations where it’s not your place to comment or offer suggestions.
Unemployment can be hard, but trust that your child’s parent will be back on their feet as soon as possible. Just like you, they have your child’s best interest in mind. Trust that they will plan accordingly for the future to ensure their family’s stability.
6. They Change Their Faith.
If you enjoy sharing spiritual traditions with your child, it’s easy to take it personally when the adoptive family stops actively going to church or changes their faith.
Religion is a tricky subject for everyone. However, it’s no one’s business but the parents as to whether or not their child participates in faith activities. You may be disappointed, but remember that open adoption is not co-parenting. You do not have a say in your child’s spiritual education, beyond what you expressed to the adoptive parents before placement.
Faith is a very personal subject, and people express theirs in many different ways. Your child has the right to make their own decisions about their faith, and you may see them turn back to or change faiths many times during their life. Remember that it’s never a reflection on you.
7. Someone Experiences a Major Illness or Injury.
Whether it affects an adoptive parent, sibling or even your child, an illness or injury can seem to stop the world on its axis. You may be unsure of what to say or do; you’re not exactly an immediate family member, but you’re not just an acquaintance, either. How do you react to a cancer or terminal illness diagnosis — or even a sudden death?
Remember, you should do what you are comfortable with. If you can, offer your support. It’s better to say something than nothing. Acknowledge the situation, even if you’re not sure what you can do to help. Be flexible when it comes to open adoption contact, and encourage the adoptive parents to take their time in returning phone calls or texts. In the meantime, you can try to be there for your birth child by being someone to talk to or distracting them with fun activities.
As tempting as it can be, don’t just disappear. A sense of normalcy is appreciated during a health crisis, and even though your relationship with the family is unique, it will mean a lot to have this part of their life stay the same.
Have more questions about dealing with your birth child’s life changes? Reach out to your adoption specialist for guidance and suggestions.